14 Recipes for Amazing Portraits


14 Recipes for Amazing Portraits
14 Recipes for
by Gina Milicia
Written by: Gina Milicia
Publisher: Darren Rowse
Producer: Jasmin Tragas
Copywriter: Belinda Weaver
Graphic Design: Naomi Creek
[email protected]
Quick Reference Cookbook: 14 Recipes for Amazing Portraits
Version 1.1 ©Copyright 2013 Gina Milicia
All photos and illustrations by the author, including those taken for credited
media and publishing companies, unless otherwise noted. No photograph can
be reproduced under any circumstance in any format including, but not exhaustive
to, web, print, or electronic formats.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or
by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise, without prior written consent
from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may
store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for
your own personal use.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the author’s
experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable
for the use or misuse of the information in this book.
Credits and copyright_________________ 2
Downlighting the body shot_________ 26
About the Author____________________ 4
THE BEGINNING_______________5
THE RECIPES__________________6
Tungsten lights with special effects___ 30
Fun with water_____________________ 34
Daylight inside – by a window_________ 7
Outside with a two-light setup_______ 38
Daylight outside – open shade_______ 10
Using shutter speed to create mood__ 41
Daylight outside – in direct light______ 14
Creating film noir___________________ 44
The three-frame quick shot__________ 17
Advanced fill flash 1_________________ 47
Beauty lighting with a fill flash_______ 20
Advanced fill flash 2_________________ 51
Cloudy daylight plus fill flash_________ 23
THE END___________________ 55
About the Author
Gina Milicia is one of Australia’s
leading photographers, specializing
in fashion, lifestyle, celebrity
portraits, corporate portraits and
Known for her creativity,
professionalism and unique ability to
get the most out of the people she is
photographing, Gina’s 25-year career
as a photographer has resulted in
a portfolio that boasts the “Who’s
Who” in the fashion, entertainment
and corporate world.
During my first two years as a professional
photographer my income was low. When
my accountant saw my total income he
burst out, “Are you kidding me? How does
anyone live on that pitiful amount? Why
don’t you go back to teaching?”
I sacked him after that meeting.
In an attempt to make ends meet during
those early years, I took on a part-time
job as second chef in an Italian restaurant.
Tony, the head chef, took me under his
wing and taught me how to cook. It was
a popular restaurant. We had to work
quickly and under pressure and it proved
to be an excellent training ground for my
career as a celebrity photographer.
I also learnt that there are lots of different
ways to make the same dish. How you
combine ingredients, your cooking style
and your presentation all contribute to
your dishes’ signature style. As I became
more confident in the kitchen, I started to
experiment and develop a few signature
dishes of my own.
Photography is exactly the same.
Once you learn how different lighting
styles work together and you gain
confidence in your work, you can
experiment and develop your own
signature style.
In my first book, Portraits – Making the
Shot – I explained some of the tricks and
techniques of my portrait photography.
In this book I’ve given you many of my
favorite photographic recipes. Remember,
there are many ways to shoot a great
portrait. How you light, pose and frame
your shots will become part of your own
signature style.
The Beginning
The Recipes
Gary Sweet ©2011 Movie Network Channels. ©2011 Boilermaker-Burberry Entertainment Pty Ltd – used with permission.
The Shot
Daylight inside –
by a window
The Way
This portrait was taken at the end of a long
shoot. It was just really an afterthought and
I knew Gary was keen to finish up.
When I asked if he minded giving me just one
more shot, I had already tested my settings
on an assistant. Because of that preparation,
it was a two-minute shoot and gave me one
of my favorite shots of the year. It became the
prototype for a new style of portrait and simple
go-to lighting technique. This little corner of
my studio is now my favorite place to shoot.
The Light
The Style
Light conditions: Daylight
There isn’t really much to say about this
pose as it’s quite a close up headshot. I
wanted Gary to look strong and powerful
so the shot focuses on his eyes. Getting
the right amount of catch light from the
window was important and I shot from
about eye level so that when you look
at this photo if feels like Gary is looking
right at you.
I have some large frosted windows in
one corner of my warehouse studio. I had
noticed the soft light shining through at
certain times of the day and thought it
would be a nice change from the studio
lighting we’d been using all day.
The frosted windows gave me a really soft
light down one side of Gary’s face, with
a beautiful fall off on the other side. The
huge windows also reflect a lot of light
into his eyes (known as catch light).
Daylight, through a window, is great for
up close headshots and this is now one of
my favorite places to shoot.
The only time this type of light isn’t
reliable is when it’s really dull and
overcast. If the light is too flat you won’t
get enough contrast across your sitter’s
face. If the light is too bright you will have
a lot of contrast, which can cause harsh
shadows on the face. You can soften
the light by sticking tracing paper to the
window or hanging light, white fabric.
Recipes | Daylight inside – by a window
The Gear
The Settings
The Takeaways
• Canon 5D Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• N
otice the light around you and experiment at
different times so you know exactly what the
results will be.
• Canon 85mm IS L series lens
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 85mm
• A
perture is F1.2 @ 1/40th of a
To create a longer depth of field,
where the dreamy look starts further
from your sitter’s eyes, increase your
aperture to F2.8 or even F4. You will
need a slower shutter speed to allow
enough light in, so you might want to
shoot at a faster ISO.
• Have a go-to scenario you can do with your
eyes closed, under pressure.
• Always take your light readings and test your
settings on a stand-in model.
• To get the eyes sharp while the rest of the
photo takes on a dreamy quality, use a really
short depth of field (a low F-stop) and focus
right on the eyeball.
Recipes | Daylight inside – by a window
The Shot
Tegan Steele
Daylight outside – open shade
The Way
Open shade on a bright, sunny day is
probably the most beautiful light in
the world. It provides you with a really
simple lighting technique that bounces
light into your sitter’s eyes.
I stumbled across this dockside location
quite a while ago, and added it to my
visual diary. I’ve always wanted to come
back and shoot here.
The Light
Light conditions:
Bright, sunny daylight
This was shot in the middle of the
day when the sun was brightest.
The brightness of the sunshine creates
stunning catch up lights in the model’s
eyes but positioning her in full shade
(called open shade) means she is
perfectly and evenly lit.
When you are shooting in open shade on a
bright, sunny day, the difference between
the light readings from the area that is
sunlit and the area that is shaded will be
approximately 3 F-stops (on your aperture
selection). This difference means that if
you have a plain, light colored background
(such as sand on a beach), you won’t get
any detail and it could look boring, or like
a studio shot. If you’re using an open shade
scenario, choose a darker background to
give yourself the latitude for over-exposing.
This was such a great location I
was tempted to shoot this with the
background in greater focus, with a
sharper depth of field and aperture
of F5.6. But creating beautiful skin
tone is really important, so I adjusted
my aperture (F-stop) reading to be
approximately ½ – 1 stop over my
ambient reading. It worked out well and
I like the way the dreamy background
almost matches her bikini.
Squinting is a common challenge when
shooting in bright sunlight. You can help
your sitter by letting them keep their
eyes closed until you shoot and only
shooting a frame or two at a time, or
getting them to look at something dark
just before you take the shot.
The Style
Your sitter needs to be at the very edge of
a covered area with solid shade (also called
open shade) so that the available light
bounces onto them. Pergolas are perfect
but you could have them under any
covered area that opens out into bright
If you have a great location but you don’t
have a pergola or shaded area handy,
make one! You can create this same effect
with two volunteers holding up a piece of
Recipes | Daylight outside – open shade
The Gear
The Settings
The Takeaways
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO set to 100
• C
anon 70-200mm IS
L series lens
• Lens focus length is 175mm
• If you can see spots of sunlight on your hand
when you hold it up, you don’t have open
shade. If you can’t find any open shade you
might have to use a fill flash or bounce board.
• 2 x light stands
• 2 x Manfrotto superclamps
• 1 x shade board
• 2 x shot bags
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• A
perture is F2.8 @ 1/1250th
of a second
• Use a tripod and make sure your vertices are
square before you start shooting. It’s easy to
get carried away with light and poses and not
notice that the structures in the background
are actually on an angle.
• Don’t get distracted by a beautiful
background. Remember that your sitter is the
star and you want them to stand out!
• Take some extra shots of the background
because they are often useful for textures or
portfolio pieces.
Recipes | Daylight outside – open shade
Mallory Janson, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Sept 10, 2011 www.malloryjansen.blogspot.com.au
The Shot
Daylight outside –
in direct light
The Way
The real star of this shoot was the Brooklyn
Bridge. I broke my rule about using a tripod but
achieved my dream of shooting this location.
I have always wanted to shoot on the
Brooklyn Bridge. I love it as a location,
and it’s one of the coolest shoots I’ve
ever done. Everything came together
and I am still delighted with the
This is obviously a public location but
more than that, it was the day before
the 10th anniversary of the September
11 terrorist attack. The city was in
complete lockdown with roadblocks
and police everywhere, ramping up the
degree of difficulty to maximum.
The Style
Because the location is the real star of this
shot, the positioning centers on finding the
most beautiful situation. Every location
has some ugly corners so it pays to get on
location before your shoot, and find out
where you need to be to capture the best
The Light
Light conditions:
Daylight (light cloud cover)
The closer to midday you shoot (11am
– 2pm), the harder the light becomes,
giving you more contrast in your
shadows. Those shadows can be great
if you’re after a downlighting effect as
they can be quite flattering, enhancing
your sitter’s body shape and muscles.
You may want to use a reflector of
some description to combat any hard
shadows on their face.
We shot this quite early in the morning,
about 9am – 10am and it was not only
much cooler, the light was much softer.
While it looks like we had clear blue
skies, we actually had some light cloud
cover, which gave us almost perfect light
conditions (as the cloud cover acts like a
giant softbox).
I wanted to shoot quickly and efficiently so
I broke my rule about using a tripod. I shot
at 1/1600th of a second, which is a very fast
shutter speed, so there would be no camera
shake. I also positioned myself low, on the
ground, to recreate the stability of a tripod
as much as possible. Shooting from a low
position will also make your sitter look taller
and leaner, which is very flattering.
Recipes | Daylight outside – in direct light
The Gear
The Settings
The Takeaways
• Canon 5D Mk II
• ISO set to 400
• C
anon 300mm F5.6 IS L series
• Lens focus length is 70mm
• If you want to use specific equipment but you
don’t want to pay any excess baggage, look at
hiring it locally.
I chose to use a long lens and shoot
wide open to capture the beautiful
background in soft focus.
• A
perture is F4 @ 1/1600th of a
If I shot this again I might choose 100
ISO and shoot at a lower shutter speed.
• Shoot early in the morning for a softer light.
You’ll also avoid the heat!
• If you’re shooting on location, visit a day or
two earlier and have a good look around for
the best spot. Visit at the same time you will
be shooting so you can get your settings right.
• Avoid public places if you can!
Recipes | Daylight outside – in direct light
This shot of Gus the Boxer and Rambo was part of the Gus the Boxer calendar, which we did as a charity fundraiser for the Lort Smith Animal Hospital.
The Shot
The three-frame
quick shot
The Way
This is a great example of a shot that’s going to
happen really quickly. This is usually the case when
you are working with animals and children over a
certain age, because they won’t stay still for very
Your goal with any shoot is to get useable shots
from the first frame and that means being
prepared. Set the shot up and get someone else
to sit in for you, work out your settings and away
you go!
The Light
The Style
Light conditions:
Daylight (heavy cloud cover)
When you have more than one sitter,
unless you can direct them to keep their
eyes on the same focal plane, I recommend
you create a longer depth of field (by
choosing a slower shutter speed and
higher aperture).
If you look outside and see heavy clouds
on the horizon, grab your camera! Cloudy
days give you flat, even lighting to shoot
in so you can capture details in your
highlights and details in your shadows.
You also have the opportunity to add
contrast in post-production, adding some
fill flash to give it some pop or underexposing your background to add drama.
I’ve included a recipe that covers this kind
of dramatic exposure.
Ideally I would set an aperture of F2.8
to really throw the background out of
focus but the depth of field would have
been too narrow. So I deliberately chose
an aperture that was a little bit higher to
ensure both dogs were in focus.
Recipes | The three-frame quick shot
The Gear
The Settings
The Takeaways
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO set to 100
• C
anon 70-200mm IS
L series lens
• Lens focus length is 165mm
• K
eep it simple. Try to find a scenario where
daylight will work because if you start getting
complicated, you’ll end up disappointed.
I chose to use a long lens and shoot
wide open to capture the beautiful
background in soft focus.
• A
perture is F4.5 @ 1/800th of a
If I shot this again I might choose 100
ISO and shoot at a lower shutter speed.
• Be prepared to get the shot in five frames
or fewer. That means doing your homework,
setting up the shot and being ready at all
• If you have extra people on your set, don’t be
afraid to own the shoot. Once you let other
people start directing, your sitters will start
looking in different directions and you’ll never
get the shot.
Recipes | The three-frame quick shot
The Shot
Lisa McCune – courtesy of Woman’s Day/ACP Magazines.
Beauty lighting with a fill flash
The Way
This was shot for a popular Australian
women’s magazine – Woman’s Day.
I often shoot these kinds of profile
stories where the brief is simply to get
beautiful shots to go with the article.
Lisa was working on a theatre
production and didn’t have long for
the shoot so I had to find a location in
the middle of the Melbourne CBD.
The Light
The Style
Light conditions: Bright daylight
Most people are a little awkward without
something to do. They feel isolated and
vulnerable and by leaning them against a
wall, they feel supported. It sounds strange
but it’s absolutely true.
My first priority was to find a location
with beautiful lighting. Following my
process from the introduction to this
section, I took my initial readings based
on Lisa’s skin tone in the ambient light.
You’ll also notice that by tilting her
head back slightly, the mood of the shot
Run through a series of small changes
Once you get your sitter into position take
some frames with their chin tilting up, chin
tilting down, facing front on to camera,
facing ¾ to camera, open mouthed smile,
closed mouth smile, zooming in close,
zooming out.
There is nothing tricky about this shot,
except for the logistics of being on a
crowded city street. You might think
people will crowd around but generally
speaking, people are considerate and
understanding. Even so, make sure you’re
still aware of what’s happening in the
As you can see, the initial frame is a nice shot. She looks beautiful but the
skin tone is a little dull. I knew the flash would add a more balanced light
that would brighten her up and match the background.
Recipes | Beauty lighting with a fill flash
The Gear
The Settings
The Takeaways
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO set to 100
• T ake readings and a frame using the ambient
light then decide if you need fill flash.
• C
anon 70-200mm IS
L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1x grid spot
• 1 x Bowens Mobil A2
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 200mm
I chose to use a long lens and shoot
wide open to capture the beautiful
background in soft focus. If I had shot
this at 70mm, the background would
have been sharper.
I took this ambient reading first
• Aperture is F5 @ 1/100th of a
• Once you get someone into place, try small
position changes to capture different moods.
• Always be respectful of other people’s
property and their privacy, even when you’re
in a public location. If you are in a café or
restaurant let people know they will be in the
background of your shot and make sure they
don’t mind.
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the flash
• Aperture is F5.6 @ 1/125th of a
Recipes | Beauty lighting with a fill flash
The Shot
Dan O’Connor
Cloudy daylight
plus fill flash
The Way
This whole shot was an afterthought and the
conditions weren’t ideal. There was thick cloud
cover and it was autumn in Melbourne, so even
the middle of the day is quite dark.
I had noticed this laneway just outside the studio
and I really wanted to use it. The light was really
flat but once I introduced my beauty dish and grid
spot, it turned out to be ideal shooting conditions.
The Light
Light conditions:
Daylight (heavy cloud cover)
The best way to tell if you have flat light
is by looking for shadows. Hard light
produces a lot of well-defined shadows
whereas flat light gives you no shadow
at all. Flat light can be great because it
gives you detail in shadows and detail in
highlights, but it can look a little dull.
When you’re adding hard lighting, like
the beauty dish with grid spot we used
here, it’s almost like having a spotlight on
your sitter. The best position for the light
is on a 40°/45° angle to your sitter, so that
the light wraps around them rather than
creating hard shadows on their face.
Introducing some hard lighting, like a grid
spot, lifts the shot in two ways:
1. Y
ou are adding
contrast and
brightness to your
skin tones in the area
affected by the light.
The grid spot shines
light onto his face
and around his body
then falls away.
2. Y
ou are adding a bit of drama and
interest by under-exposing your
The Style
I love shooting in long, narrow areas,
especially for single portraits. I like the way
the lines guide you through and back into
the shot.
I wanted this portrait to be strong and
confident so I’ve positioned him front and
center, legs slightly apart.
Recipes | Cloudy daylight plus fill flash
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk III
• ISO set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 1 x grid spot on beauty dish
• 1 x 580 EX speed light
• 2 x Pocket Wizards
• Lens focus length is 165mm
• A
perture is F2.8 @ 1/125th
of a second
The Takeaways
• K
eep your eye out for narrow spaces you
can use, especially ones with interesting
• Allow time for some “afterthought” shots.
When the pressure is off, you might just get
the shot of the day!
• Always experiment with your lighting and
settings on a stand-in model, rather than on
your sitter. And never test new equipment on
a shoot!
• Don’t be too heavy handed with the lighting.
Over-lighting will completely change the shot.
Recipes | Cloudy daylight plus fill flash
Image courtesy Australia’s Got Talent, Channel Seven.
The Shot
the body shot
The Way
There are a few tricks you can use
to make muscle definition more
The Light
1. If your sitter is quite pale, a nice
spray tan will help (although a
spray tan can go horribly wrong
and is much harder to correct
when it does).
Downlighting is the process of using a hard
light source and directing the light from
above the body.
2. A good make-up artist will be able
to create the appearance of more
3. Then you have downlighting.
Australian singer Peter Andre (once
famous for his six pack abs) showed
me how downlighting could turn a
great body into an unbelievable body.
He was at the peak of his singing
career and had his abdominals on
permanent display. The girls went
crazy for him! I had never heard of
downlighting before but Peter sent
me instructions on exactly how he
wanted his body lit for the shoot.
Light conditions: Bright daylight
You’re shooting from above so aim your
grid lighting downwards so it lights your
sitter’s face and abdominal region and
creates hard shadows underneath the chin
and pecs and abs muscles. This method of
lighting will also introduce hard shadows
into their face, so I used a flash to light his
face at the same time.
You could create this effect using the
midday sun and a reflector positioned so
that your sitter’s face is nicely lit.
I chose this forest location because he’s a
professional woodchopper but when we
arrived I realized there were going to be
a number of challenges.
1. We had to look for some open shade
so that he wouldn’t be dappled with
spots of sunlight. Dappled light, with
spots of shade and light, can look
pretty to the naked eye but it can also
leave your sitter with spots of sunlight
all over their body. You won’t notice
it at the time and those spots are
almost impossible to edit out in postproduction.
2. M
y Canon can only sync the flash at
1/250th of a second, which meant I
had to shoot at an aperture of F11 to
let more light in. The knock-on effect
of the higher aperture was having the
forest background in much sharper
detail than I wanted it to be.
If I were just using the available daylight,
without a flash, I’d select an aperture of
F2.8 (wide open) to capture my sitter in
sharp detail and leave everything else out
of focus.
Recipes | Downlighting the body shot
If you are shooting against a green
background make sure it is sunlit or
backlit. The color green photographs so
densely it can almost look black.
To ensure the background didn’t take
over, I deliberately under-exposed the
background (by lighting him more heavily)
so that the green leafiness was darker
than it would otherwise be. My first book,
Portraits, Making the Shot, explains how
to find the right skin tone exposure against
difficult backgrounds and it’s worth a read.
The Style
This shoot uses the classic contrapposto
pose to give him a lean waist and a
V-shape up to his shoulders. If your sitter’s
body is the real star of the shoot, you can
give their muscles a boost by getting your
sitter to:
• Do a quick set of push-ups and sit-ups to
get the blood flowing into their muscles.
This will make them a fraction bigger for
a few frames.
• Exhale and hold their breath (to clench
their abdominals) in the shoot pose.
You might need a few frames to let
them practice relaxing their face at the
same time as it can be a bit like trying
to rub your belly and tap your head
Recipes | Downlighting the body shot
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x grid spot and beauty dish
• 1 x light stand
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 200mm
I took this ambient reading first
• Aperture is F8 @ 1/100th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the flash
• Aperture is F11 @ 1/100th of a
The Takeaways
• Y
our sitter should be the hero of the shot
so try to avoid a busy background. You can
under-expose the background by adjusting
your aperture and increasing the brightness
of your flash. If your ambient reading on your
sitter is F8 then introducing flash to make
the readings a stop brighter (F11) will underexpose your background by 1 F-stop.
• If you’re using your flash on a bright sunny
day you will need to select a larger aperture
setting, which means that your shot will be
sharp all the way through.
• Ask your sitter to do a few push-ups and situps just before you shoot. The burst of activity
will pump blood into their muscles, helping to
give them the appearance of more definition.
Recipes | Downlighting the body shot
Marny Kennedy, Harrison Gilbertson, Taylor Glockner – courtesy Circa Media Pty Ltd, Movie Network Channel.
The Shot
Tungsten lights
with special effects
The Way
This shot was a Foxtel® cover advertising
a children’s detective show. I wanted to
give it a cinematic look with an edgy,
spooky feel.
Tungsten lighting is a continuous style of
lighting still used on film and television
sets. The real advantage of shooting
tungsten is its speed. You can just keep
on shooting rather than waiting for your
light flashes to recycle.
Keep your eye out for old movie lights
and tungsten-style lighting because it’s
actually a really great way to learn lighting
techniques. Once you understand the
principles of lighting with tungsten, flash is
exactly the same (except it’s more powerful).
Rembrandt was a
master of Chiaroscuro.
The Light
Light conditions: Indoors
I’ve used a lighting style called Chiaroscuro,
which is an Italian term meaning ‘lightdark’. It refers to the contrast between
the light and dark areas and it was used
throughout the Renaissance period.
I used three redhead tungsten lights
and positioned one on the floor behind
them to backlight the shot and give it a
sense of drama. Backlighting also helped
to highlight the smoke we had drifting
through the shot.
I positioned the other two lights to the
side of the shot to create this beautiful, ¾
light effect with the light dropping off at
the side of their faces.
I also needed a screen (scrim) to filter and
soften the light, so the contrast wasn’t too
drastic. If you don’t want to buy a screen,
you can use sailing cloth to make your
own. A small screen and a desk lamp can
create some nice, soft lighting for a oneperson portrait.
Recipes | Tungsten lights with special effects
The Style
Because of the rather elaborate setup we
did a lot of pre-shooting to make sure we
knew how the smoke would work out.
Then while the three actors were getting
their hair and make-up done, I had three
people stand in for me to make sure all the
settings were right.
I’ve started by putting them into the classic
contrapposto, and then I let them relax
into it.
The contrapposto is one of my usual
starting poses because it’s very flattering to
almost every body shape. The most famous
contrapposto pose is Michelangelo’s David,
which is held up as the example of the
perfect male body.
This is a good example of why it’s
important to remain focused on your
subject. The guy on the right hand side
was originally standing up but when he
sat down between frames, I realized it
was a much better position.
Recipes | Tungsten lights with special effects
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk III
• ISO is set to 400
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x redhead tungsten lights
• 1 x scrim with frame 3m x 2m
• 1 x light stand
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 125mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F2.8 @ 1/8th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F4 @ 1/15th of a
The Takeaways
• T his is a more advanced shot simply because
of the extra lighting and equipment it uses.
It’s the kind of shot you definitely need to plan
and practice using your smoke machine.
• This is a great style of lighting because of the
continuous and soft light you get. Tungsten
lighting allows you to learn how light works
and how it hits your subject. Everyone should
learn tungsten lighting before they move to
• T his is a classic pose with a classic lighting
style. . . This style of lighting works for
headshots, children and corporate shoots. It’s
simple and beautiful.
• A wind machine – or hair dryer – can create
some movement in an otherwise static pose.
Recipes | Tungsten lights with special effects
Todd McKenney www.toddmckenney.com
The Shot
Fun with water
The Way
I love projects that don’t have a particular brief
because they give me the scope to be a little more
adventurous. When Todd said he just wanted “some
cool shots” I knew I could have a little more fun.
This shoot also let me bring in my A-team with my
favorite stylist Lou Petch and make-up artist Fotini
Hatzis. I love to work with these guys because they
are very good at what they do and we all work
really well together. Part of that is having similar
personalities but we also know which job we’re
there to do. That combination makes the shoot so
much easier.
The Light
Light conditions: Indoors with some
ambient window light
The first step is to take an ambient reading
of the available daylight so you can see
what your shot looks like just in daylight.
The ambient reading for this shot is F2.8 at
100 ISO at 1/30th of a second, which is quite
a soft light. Had I started shooting with
these settings, the shutter speed wouldn’t
have been fast enough to freeze the motion
of the water, which is what I wanted.
To freeze the little balls of water as they
hit him, I had to use a flash.
Once you introduce water into your shoot,
you need to make sure there is no plug-in
equipment. I wanted to make sure everyone
on set went home at the end of the shoot so
all the equipment ran off batteries that day.
To add some contrast and drama, I
aimed a grid spot at his shoulder and
side of his head and then used a soft
box to fill his face from the same side.
To make sure his face was almost evenly
lit, with a nice fall off down the side,
I used a silver reflector to bounce light
back in and fill the other side of his face.
I adjusted the aperture to F3.2, which
is ¾ of a stop more, to allow less light
into the camera. I then increased the
shutter speed to 1/60th sec to freeze the
motion of the water and create a darker
Recipes | Fun with water
The Style
Todd was a great sport about this shot.
He was going to get wet and it was a
freezing day.
I positioned Todd in a baby’s swimming
pool, with someone on a ladder ready
to pour water over him.
The moment you start pouring the
water over someone you will ruin the
hair and make-up. To give myself more
frames I got my assistant to pour the
water on to the back of his shoulder
rather than directly onto his head.
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk III
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x large softbox
• 1
x Elinchrom Ranger battery
• 2 x light stands
• Lens focus length is 155mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F2.8 @ 1/30th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the flash
• Aperture is F3.2 @ 1/60th of a
The Takeaways
• P lanning is crucial to a shoot like this. Have a
checklist and make sure you have everything
you need
• My best work has been the result of a great
team effort. Work with great stylists, make-up
artists and assistants who share your creative
• Models, make up artists and stylists are also
trying to build up their portfolio so approach
students and offer to put a shoot together to
showcase your skills.
• 1 x reflector with grid spot
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
Recipes | Fun with water
Peter Moon, Australian comedian and actor.
The Shot
Outside with a
two-light setup
The Way
This is a great portrait style if the
background is just as important as your
sitter. This was a promotional shot for
Peter’s new TV series, which centered on
a family living in this house. So the house
was a big part of the shot.
My own portrait style is to give the
backgrounds an out of focus, dreamy
quality but for this shot, the house was a
feature of the shot so I needed it sharp.
I wanted the image to be saturated with
color with a really suburban feel to it.
The Light
Light conditions: Bright daylight
To make sure Peter stood out against
the background, which is in bright
sunshine, I had to introduce flash.
Once you start shooting with flash
outside, that amount of light limits
how fast and how wide open you can
I took an ambient reading of the
whole image and had an aperture of
F11 with a shutter speed of 1/125th of
a second. I then adjusted my lighting
until the meter reading was F16 @
1/125th of a second (or one stop
brighter than the background).
If you don’t want your background to be
sharp and saturated, like this shot is, you
can use a neutral density filter that will
reduce your aperture (and your exposure to
the light) by two stops. They’re really handy
if you have a bright, sunny day and you
don’t want to capture everything in supersharp focus.
The Style
Peter is a very funny comedian and
generally speaking, comedians are funniest
when you give them the freedom to be
funny. I positioned Peter in open shade so
that he was evenly lit, at the very front of
the shot, and then let him do his thing.
To add to the comic effect I shot from a
low position, using my tripod to make
sure the angles were as square as possible.
You see how geometric this house is, so if
my angles were off, the shot would have
looked wrong.
Recipes | Outside with a two-light setup
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• C
anon 24-105mm IS L
series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x grid spot and beauty dish
• 1 x light stand
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 24mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F11 @ 1/125th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F16 @ 1/125th of a
The Takeaways
• U
se a tripod to ensure your lines are straight.
A slightly off center shot can make the viewer
feel a little seasick.
• A wider lens will give you a slightly distorted
view, which can make the shot a bit funkier.
• Double check your sitter’s position against
the background. It’s easy to get so distracted
that you don’t notice the plant or light post
that now looks like it’s ‘growing’ out of your
sitter’s head.
Recipes | Outside with a two-light setup
The Shot
Alex Dimitriades – image courtesy Nine Network Australia.
Using shutter speed to create mood
The Way
This shot was done for the first season
of the Australian television series,
Underbelly. We had to cover all the
promotional shots for an entire year of
publicity, so a lot of different lighting
scenarios had to be created as quickly
as possible.
This was another afterthought shot
done in a “spare five minutes”. All my
lights were being used elsewhere on
set and I was keeping my eye on two
shoots happening at the same time.
I noticed some grey doors and I
thought I could create a darker, more
somber shot.
The Light
Light conditions: Indoors
I wanted the background to be dark
enough to look black, which meant I had
to get rid of any other light in the shot,
increase the shutter speed and aim my
light on him.
I used a very narrow grid spot, shining the
light from slightly above him and into his
face and eyes. The light from a grid spot
drops off really quickly which allowed me
to create a chiseled look without creating
too many hard shadows.
Had I increased the angle of light to 90
degrees, the shadow from his nose would
have been too hard. As it is, the grid spot
really lights up his eyes, which gives them
a pretty intense look that makes the shot.
You can achieve this light effect with a
speed light, which is much cheaper, but
don’t forget to keep your eyes open for
second-hand bargains. I bought my first
Mobil lighting kit as an ex-hire unit so it
was significantly cheaper. All I had to do
was get the batteries reconditioned.
The Style
As a general rule you shouldn’t crop into
someone but I love this look. I think it adds
to the drama of the shot.
When it comes to cropping, some general
rules are that it’s ok to crop from above –
into their head – but never from below. If
you crop into someone’s chin they will just
look strange.
Because the eyes are the key to this shot,
I’ve positioned them slightly off center to
add some more drama.
Recipes | Using shutter speed to create mood
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x grid spot
• 1 x Bowens Mobil A2
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 170mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F2.8 @ 1/15th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F5.6 @ 1/125th of a
The Takeaways
• T he grid spot gives you a really focused light.
The light is strongest in the center then it
drops off gradually. Aim the grid spot at his
eyes so the center is hitting his eyes.
• Give your sitter a scenario they can play out in
their head. It will help them focus and they’ll
give you more.
• Play around with positioning your sitter when
you’re cropping in post-production. I ended up
cropping it slightly off center to make it a little
more interesting.
Recipes | Using shutter speed to create mood
Grant Bowler – image courtesy Nine Network Australia
The Shot
Creating film noir
The Way
This was one shot taken as part of a
day-long publicity shoot for a new
television drama. Our studio was a
grungy warehouse and we had to
create a range of different looking
shots in the limited space available.
We also had quite limited time.
I found this stairwell and used just
one light. This is a simple shot that
could have been overcomplicated but
because I was under pressure, I kept
it simple. I think it’s the simplicity that
makes this shot work so nicely.
Film noir (French for black film)
The film noir style began in the 1930s.
Films of this style used a low key (darkly lit)
black and white style of lighting and often
portrayed dark themes such as gangster and
crime fiction. Typical film noir scenes were
often shot in darkly lit alleyways, smoky
rooms, or wet streets with neon lights.
The Light
Light conditions: Indoors
I wanted to highlight each step without
showing much detail and the ambient
light was almost enough. By introducing
some flash and a softbox, brightening the
readings by another two F-stops, I was
able to create some soft light on the side
of his face and create a little bit of light
spill onto the wall.
If I had introduced a harder light source,
like a grid spot, the stairs would have been
much darker with no detail at all.
The Style
This is one of the classic sitting poses and
could be on any chair. Leaning forward
with hands clasped is a favorite pose of
mine, especially for men.
A slightly angled body is more flattering
so I usually shoot men and women on
an angle. You will notice that this shot
is almost straight on and that’s for two
reasons. He had really dark trousers so I
knew his crotch wouldn’t be highlighted
and I knew I would be cropping through
his hands.
Recipes | Creating film noir
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x Bowens Mobil A2
• 1 x large softbox
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 70mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F2.8 @ 1/8th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F2.8 @ 1/30th of a
The Takeaways
• F ilm noir movies are a great place to find
ideas about photo shoots and setups.
They are moody and atmospheric and give
you a really dramatic shot.
• If you have a limited set, use your imagination
to find space you can use.
• Position your light at a 45 degree angle to
your sitter so you create moody light.
• Don’t be afraid to keep it simple. You don’t
need to add lots of lights and props to make
a shot great.
Recipes | Creating film noir
Shaynna Blaze www.shaynnablaze.com
The Shot
fill flash 1
The Way
My original idea for this shot was to have
Shaynna sitting on a beautifully ornate
chair. The chair and the designer dress
were going to contrast with the roughness
of the pier behind her.
This was one of my first test frames. I felt it was a bit flat and that the
pier detracted from Shaynna, the star of the shoot.
I decided to introduce some backlighting and get that dress moving so
that it contrasted with the dramatic winter sky. This is one of my go-to
poses when I’m working with amazing dresses, so it didn’t take long to
put together.
It was a great idea, until I saw her in the
dress. This dress is so fantastic that I knew
I had to shoot her standing up.
The Light
Light conditions:
Sunset (light cloud cover)
When I took the ambient reading, I felt
it was right for the dramatic mood I
wanted to create so I wanted to introduce
only enough fill flash to match ambient
readings. The fill flash brightens her skin
tone without making her look like a
startled rabbit caught in a spotlight.
My first book, Portraits, Making the Shot,
explains balancing flash with daylight in
more detail.
Backlighting is a beautiful way to light
someone and by positioning the light
directly behind her, I have given her a
sweet angelic glow. If you are backlighting
in this way, you will need to smooth your
sitter’s hair as the light will show every
stray hair giving them a fuzzy halo.
The softbox, positioned off to her side
and slightly above, gives her beautiful
catch lights while creating a slight
downlighting effect that is really
This shot probably doesn’t need to be
backlit as I could just have used the
setting sun with one side light. That
would have given the shot a slightly more
dramatic effect.
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 1
Beware of flare
Flare occurs when direct light hits your lens.
It can create a beautiful effect or ruin your shot,
so you need to check your images as you shoot.
To prevent flare:
• Change the angle of your camera
• Hide the source of the light by moving the
light, or your sitter
• Get someone to cast a shadow over your lens
The Style
I wanted this pose to be heroic and proud so
I got Shaynna to stand with her legs slightly
apart, her hands on her hips with her elbows
pointing backwards and her chest out. This a
classic superhero pose.
Standing ¾ to camera, rather than straight
on, is a really flattering position for men and
women and it gave us a little more room to
show off the dress. Once I got her into the
position, there was very little movement and
the only changes we made were to the flick of
the dress.
To enhance the heroic feel of the shot, I
positioned myself quite low to the ground.
Shooting from a lower position can also give
your sitter some extra height, which not many
people will turn down!
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 1
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk III
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x small softbox
• 1
x Elinchrom Ranger
battery pack
• 2 x light stands
• 1 x reflector with grid
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Lens focus length is 110mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F5.6 @ 1/250th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F 5.6 @ 1/250th of a
The Takeaways
• O
nce I had the look of the shot, I didn’t
deviate. There was no need to go through
different poses and locations. The result
is that I’ve created one shot that is really
memorable, rather than five shots that are just
• This was shot in winter so we also made sure
we kept her warm while we tested the flick of
the dress.
Shutter speed is quite fast because I
needed to freeze the motion of the
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 1
Kasia Zachwieja/J’aton www.letsfaceit.tv
The Shot
fill flash 2
The Way
This shot was photographed at sunset in the middle of an
Australian winter, so it was about 46°F (8°C). We were on the
roof of a Melbourne skyscraper and there was a freezing cold
wind chilling us all to the bone.
This is the kind of shot you need to plan out and think of in
advance. Sunset usually happens quickly and once the light
starts to go you don’t have time to get it wrong.
I shot directly to card because the light was dropping so
quickly I had no time to check exposure on a laptop.
Kasia without fill flash. Her skin tone is too dark and shot looks flat.
The Light
Light conditions: Sunset
This shot uses a combination of lighting styles. I’m
predominantly using daylight with a boost of fill flash from a
very large softbox. The trick is to drop in just enough fill flash
to warm up the skin tones without making your sitter look like
a rabbit caught in the headlights.
On this shoot I had the luxury of two assistants so was happy
to use the Mobil A2R battery flash kit.
In hindsight I could have got exactly the same result with a
Speedlight and softbox but the coverage may not have been
as great. I find the smaller softboxes fall off around the waist
area and I wanted her whole body to be lit.
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 2
The Style
I wanted my model to stand on the ledge of
the rooftop but she was too scared. Sure, we
were at the very top of one of Melbourne’s
tallest buildings and sure, it was windy, but
the drop to the next platform was really only
about 48ft (15m) down. Ok. So maybe it was a
little bit dangerous.
That didn’t stop me though and I balanced on
the opposing ledge to get as much length as
As part of my preparation, I realized we’d
need to make a platform to give her some
height. I made sure we had lots of milk crates,
a wooden board for her to stand on and some
dark grey plastic to cover it all up.
We also had some balloons and you’ll notice
that there are a lot more balloons in the final
shot. To get that many balloons up a narrow
stairwell to a small rooftop would have been
too difficult so we boosted the numbers in
One of the constant challenges of this shot,
apart from the fading light, was keeping my
model warm. It was really cold so we kept her
all rugged up until the moment I was ready to
shoot and only shot a few frames at a time.
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 2
The Gear
The Settings
• Canon 1 DS Mk II
• ISO is set to 100
• Canon 70-200mm IS L series lens
• 2 x Pocket Wizard flash triggers
• 1 x multi-dome large softbox
• 1 x Mobil A2R battery pack
• 1 x light stand
• 1 x reflector
• 1 x Manfrotto tripod
• Milk crates
• Lens focus length is 78mm
I took this ambient reading without
• Aperture is F8 @ 1/60th of a
I took this reading once I’d introduced
the lights
• Aperture is F6.3 @ 1/60th of a
The Takeaways
• A
lways check your lighting first. Only add fill
flash if it will improve the shot. You might
have enough light if you just rotated your
sitter’s position.
• When starting to add flash in, start at the
lowest setting and build it up from there.
You are of course doing this during your
• If you are shooting in colder weather, be
considerate of how your sitter will feel.
Their skin will show the cold so keep them
warm between frames.
As a general rule I will match the
amount of flash to ambient reading
exactly or over-expose 1/3 – 1 F-stop
(extra to add more light), depending
on lighting conditions and the model.
• Wooden board
• Grey plastic
• Balloons
Recipes | Advanced fill flash 2
“By being yourself, you put something wonderful in the world that was not there before.” ― Edwin Elliot
I ended up working at the Italian
restaurant for 2 years, honing my skills as a
pasta cook. On day one I could barely boil
water. Trying to remember all the recipes
and techniques was extremely frustrating.
I made mistakes, burnt dishes and on many
occasions, I considered giving up and going
Learning a new skill is really difficult
and I was experiencing similar frustrations
in my day job as a photographer. We all
want to achieve excellence immediately.
When it gets too hard we think about
giving up.
This book is the kick-start to get you going.
It is my hope that after reading this book
you will have the necessary skills to create
awesome images.
The next part is up to you.
Get out there and shoot every day.
Creating your own style is what sets you
apart from everyone else and the more
hours you clock up, the more your style
will evolve. The world does not need
another Cartier Bresson, Liebowitz or
“insert your favorite photographer here”.
The world is screaming out for you.
The technical stuff is the easy part. Anyone
can learn how to take a technically correct
image. The good stuff will happen when
you start feeling confident, when you start
to experiment and venture out of the safe
When you can inject your own personality
into your photos, they will start to be
exciting. There is only one you. No one
else sees or thinks exactly like you do.
Take what you need from these recipes
to make them your own. Borrow from
other photographers, artists, and film
makers. Remember that inspiration is
May you always find beautiful light and
amazing locations.
“Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Begin it now.” – Goethe
The End
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How to Keep Improving
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Happy snapping!
Darren Rowse
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